James B. Boone Jr., former publisher of The Tuscaloosa News, dies at 87

Mar 1, 2023


James Buford Boone Jr., who followed his father James Buford Boone Sr. into the newspaper business, and whose extended family has expanded into a country-wide publishing business, has died at 87.

As publisher of The Tuscaloosa News, his father wrote the 1957 Pulitzer-Prize-winning front-page editorial, “What a Price for Peace” after Autherine Lucy's 1956 attempt to integrate the University of Alabama was met with mob violence. His son followed in those footsteps, focusing initially on the business side of newspapers, while his father had invested more effort in editorial efforts, said Jerry Carpenter, long-time employee of the newspaper. The senior Boone hired Carpenter as a printer for a dollar a day — good money in 1959. The younger Boone was Carpenter's friend and contemporary.

“Jim Boone was born in a large shadow, coming off of Buford Boone,” Carpenter said. “It was like Paul Jr. being born to Paul Bryant (legendary coach of the Crimson Tide). That's what it was like back then.”

In 1968, Jim Boone purchased controlling interest in Tuscaloosa Newspapers Inc., taking over as publisher and president, with his father staying on as chairman of the board until retirement in 1974.

“When he came to The Tuscaloosa News, Jim had been off, really learning the fine points of running a paper,” Carpenter said. “He just lifted advertising like a balloon. What happened on the business side was amazing.”

And that rising tide lifted all afloat.

"Once he started buying newspapers, I spent more time on airplanes than I spent on the ground; and he put my boys to work," he said. His son Todd Carpenter, who also began his career at The Tuscaloosa News, is now president and CEO of Boone Newsmedia Inc. which changed its name from Boone Newspapers last fall to reflect changing times.

Jim Boone remained chairman of BNI until his passing, overseeing 91 newspapers, websites, magazines and shopping guides throughout Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.

His youngest child, Catherine Boone Hadaway, is among those staying in the family business as publisher of the Vicksburg (Mississippi) Post, one of the papers owned by BNI. She also group-manages the Natchez Democrat and Brookhaven Daily Leader.

“Dad was just the wisest person that I ever knew,” she said. “He had a lot of sayings that guided me throughout my life: ‘Always be on the generous side of fair. Make a plan, and work your plan.’ ”

But he never pushed any of his family into the business. They just saw how much he loved newspapers — how he put his life into them. He lived by those tenets, she said, and never considered his job to be work, as such.

“He worked until 5 p.m. on Friday of this past week,” she said. “He believed in the mission of newspapers, to make the community better; to be an advocate and voice for the community.”

The Boones grew up next door to the Randalls, another prominent family in the media business. Pettus Randall III had grown his father's business, producing awards and Who's Who books into an empire with hundreds of employees across several states, creating dozens of publications. When he fell ill in the early part of this century, knowing he had to prepare Randall Publishing for a future without him, Jim Boone Jr. was the first person he called on to join the board.

“First of all, he is such a loyal friend,” said Cathy Randall, Pettus' widow. “If you have Jim Boone as a friend, you don't need anybody else.”

Boone was a fountain of knowledge, which he shared eagerly, mentoring young journalists and others, she said.

“His wisdom was incalculable, yet he shared it so freely,” Randall said. He was dedicated to community journalism as an operating principle of democracy, of newspapers not just as advocates for the community, but as a place to bring disparate voices together.

“The world of journalism, and the world as a whole, is poorer for Jim's passing,” Randall said.

Boone's funeral was at the Lowndesboro Methodist Church, 198 S. Broad St. in Lowndesboro, followed by a graveside service at Oakview Cemetery in Lowndesboro and a gathering at The Marengo House, 100 N. Broad St. in Lowndesboro.